Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: The Great Tequila Flap Gets Hotter

I was spending a few relaxed hours with a group of people in an old cantina in dusty downtown Tequila, Mexico, discussing the explosion in the town’s namesake liquor among U.S. consumers and the merits of its various styles.

We sat at long wooden tables, surrounded by plum-colored walls bearing faded posters. A pleasant, weather-beaten bartender delivered tapas plates of soft, fresh cheese, crisp nuts and salted pineapple chunks to go along with our cervezas and tequilas.

As the tapas and drinks were downed, the opinions ranged far and wide.

Tequila is by nature a raw drink, so the younger stuff is truer; like food right from the microwave, tequila needs to settle down a bit before it is consumed. Tequila tastes smoother after a few months in wooden aging barrels.

Ultimately, little was agreed upon — except that when tequila is aged beyond a certain point, the possibility arises that it turns into something other than tequila.

As Javier Orendain Lopez, brand manager of Tequila Orendain de Jalisco, told me, "As distillers try to separate themselves from the competition they want to keep turning out new and different tequilas. So, many of them age them in different wooden barrels for different amounts of time. A lot of people are saying … that even though the results can be wonderful they may not truly be tequila anymore."

The tinkering is all over the place. For example, Jose Cuervo, the industry’s top seller, ages its Black Medallion in new charred oak barrels just as bourbon distillers do. It’s done for about 12 months or so, years less than bourbons but enough time to pull out a bit of the oak flavor and color.

Elsewhere, aging generally runs from 90 days to a year or two. In my experience, the longer the barrel aging, the more floral and fruit notes begin to emerge. For example, Sauza Tres Generaciones is a super-premium that is aged a full year in wood. It winds up with a gold coloring and notes of pineapple and citrus, though I find it lighter on the nose and with a comparatively short finish.

It is getting difficult to distance products from each other, so any nuance is trumpeted just as it is in the vodka sector.

Vida ultra premium tequila, for example, has just launched in the New York, Chicago and Miami markets. The company notes that while other distillers toss away either the "head" or "tail" of the blue agave plant, Vida disgards both and uses only the heart of the heart to avoid "the unpleasant metallic taste found in many other tequilas."

But the hot number tequila aficionados are keeping a special eye on is a line of fine tequilas from a California-owned company called AsomBroso.

Owner Ricardo (Rick) Gamarra makes his tequilas in Tala, Jalisco state, near Tequila. He unabashedly refers to them as "the world’s finest," and packages them in hand-blown Italian lead crystal decanters patterned after an 18th century design.

And, what a design. A lady of my acquaintance took one look at what can only be described as phallic-shaped bottles and remarked, "Wouldn’t these be better displayed in the bedroom than the kitchen?"

That first impression aside, the remaining reactions are, virtually without exception, that this is high quality.

AsomBroso relies on multiple distillation and special filtration of the juice of the baked, aged agave. Its newest product is AsomBroso LaRosa Reposado, named for a reddish hue acquired by aging in French oak wine barrels used in maturation of red Bordeaux wines. It’s available in either 3-month or 11-month aged versions.

The line includes a pair of 5-year-old tequilas. AsomBroso del Porto, a five-year-old aged in vintage port wine barrels, was released to the market last November. El Carbonazado, extra aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels, will join the product line this year in limited quantities.

              —

              (William M. Dowd covers the world of adult beverages at

              billdowd.com)

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